There’s No War in World: the fading mountain

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

The Fading Mountain

(Laos)

The new moon is a mist behind clouds but I turn to the mountains in the near distance, on the other side of the very narrow river.

There’s a small rickety bridge that crosses it and last year they were building a second bridge not far away. Now it’s done. It’s not rickety yet, like the others, but it’s flimsy so there’s a lot of promise.

Now the sky is thick like you can touch it and it’s a dress from the Victorian Age made of endless folds of velvet. I want to watch the mountains go dark the way you want to watch water boil without ever taking your eyes away from the pot.

They say a watched pot never boils, but of course that’s not true. It’ll boil as sure as the sun rises everyday (so far that’s a sure thing, until one day the sun will just run out of energy and die). I’m not sure what that expression is trying to tell us, maybe not to be impatient but just to go on with life and let the proverbial water boil on its own?

Personally, I just think we don’t have the patience to watch water boil and are afraid to see this. The mind goes elsewhere and the body follows because we’re not as in control of ourselves as we’d like to think we are. If you’ve ever tried meditating, you’ll see how difficult it is to watch your breath go in and out, in and out, with full concentration. This is mind-training, and the mind is stubborn. It wants to be anywhere else so you start thinking about the past and future, all sorts of happy and bad things, and before you know it you’re anxious and miserable and the breath has been forgotten.

How I love the mountains of Laos, their curves and shapes and strength, and I want to watch them change in the night, all night. I want to watch this water boil. There’s a large mountain covered with trees, and next to it is a series of smaller mountains, with one darker one dominating that’s also covered in trees. Above these the sky is now several intoxicating shades of blue. I look and immediately I’m back to when I was here years ago, and how I felt so protected under these nurturing mountains, and how lonely I was then.

The mountains were everything. I see again: the sky is darker, but you can still discern the varying blues of the sky. The mountains behind the darkest one have faded into the background. The large mountain next to it has become a silhouette. I missed this in the space it took for nostalgia to grow.

I hear someone start to cry. I try to find her but I can’t. I think of loneliness again and now my attention has moved away once again from the mountains, which are almost gone now. But I remember these mountains, and I’ll keep on remembering them. You can feel them even as they disappear.

The Art of Mindful Dying: Japanese Death Poems Illuminate Life.

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

“From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.”

~ Edvard Munch

I came across a book, almost lost among Japanese recipe and travel books, with the words “Death Poems” written on its spine. I was immediately intrigued.

There is a tradition in Japan, I read, that upon one’s death, one would leave a will behind, but also a “farewell poem to life.” These death poems are called jisei, and the practice was long adhered to by Zen monks and haiku poets.

What might be contained in a few lines uttered by a spiritually advanced human at the time of death, to encapsulate a life in learning? What do the dying awakened ones want to leave behind for the rest of us?

The words ring like chime bells in autumn wind, and also cut like a blade. This, for me, is the paradoxical beauty and magic inherent in Japan’s ancient history.

Here are some of these last words, a death practice full of observation, contemplation and also humour, but also a gift to the living. So much to savour here!

 

Bassui Tokusho (died in 1387, age 61)

Look straight ahead—what’s there?
If you see it as it is
You will never err.

Daido Ichi’I (died 1370, age 79)

A tune of non-being
Filling the void:
Spring sun
Snow whiteness
Bright clouds
Clear wind

Dokyo Etan (died 1721, age 80)

Here in the shadow of death it is hard
To utter the final word.
I’ll only say, then,
‘Without saying.’
Nothing more,
Nothing more.

Gesshu Soko (died 1696, age 79)

Inhale, exhale
Forward, back
Living, dying:
Arrows, let flown each to each
Meet midway and slice
The void in aimless flight—
Thus I return to the source.

~

Hosshin (died 13th century)

Coming, all is clear, no doubt about it.
Going, all is clear, without a doubt.
What, then, is it all?

 ~

Kaso Sodon (died 1428, age 72)

A drop of water freezes instantly—
My seven years and seventy
All changes at a blow
Springs of water welling from the fire.

~

Mumon Gensen (died 1390, age 68)

Life is an ever—rolling wheel
And even day is the right one.
He who recites poems at his death,
Adds frost to snow.

Tetto Giku (died 1369, age 75)

The truth is never taken
From another.
One carries it always
By oneself.
Katsu!

I found more of these incredible poems here. Here are a couple of them:
The death poem of Matsuo Basho, one of the greatest haiku poets of all time:

On a journey, ill;
my dream goes wandering
over withered fields.

Zoso Royo (died 1276, age 84)

I pondered Buddha’s teaching
a full four and eighty years.
The gates are all now
locked about me.
No one was ever here—
Who then is he about to die,
and why lament for nothing?
Farewell!
The night is clear,
the moon shines calmly,
the wind in the pines
is like a lyre’s song.
With no I and no other
who hears the sound?

 

* This was originally published in elephant journal.

I Don’t Want to Change the World

 

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

I just want to write something short and sweet that will change the world.

This is what comes to me as I sit down, ice coffee in front of me, on a little brown table in a country whose language I don’t yet speak. I intended to write of other things, of being a foreigner in a strange land, about how every single moment is a (valuable, brutal) reminder that I am a bundle of conditionings and habit patterns, to the point where sometimes it’s hard to see if anything else is even there. I wanted to put into words how I feel powerless in the face of escalating violence in parts of the world deeply imbedded in my history.

I face obliteration in this way, daily and often in each moment – and know that I always have, whether I was tuned into this or not. Yet, I sit down, in a pair of jean shorts that make me feel young and a bit reckless, at home and free, and the sun is not going anywhere for awhile, and the rains have passed.

In this lightness I am experiencing in my little pocket of the planet, the phrase comes: I want to change the world, to write something that is like a perfect little pearl whose colors are pastel and infinite; I want to write something monumental in its simplicity, and life-changing.

It’s amazing how we can go back and forth between feeling humbled and beaten down to the point of annihilation, and exuberant about wanting to effect change. (Thoughts flit across my mind, about the Western emphasis on progress and individual achievement as opposed to the Eastern focus on groups and community, and even about the beauty pageants I used to watch, in which contestants effortlessly lay claims to an ability to end world hunger and create world peace, and wonder how much all of of this has made me).

There is no feeling of superiority behind this wish of mine, no sense that I want the world to bend and conform to my way of thinking and being, that I know what is right.

The world, like our own bodies, our own selves, has its own internal rhythm, and wisdom, and if given a chance it will tend toward surviving and thriving, no matter detours are undertaken, no matter the severity of storms hurtling through.

“Wanting to change the world” – where does this come from? I am not no-one in the world, but nor am I on one side of a fence where I can generate change on the other.

I am in the world, I breathe its air, I love within its space, and sometimes I scream and yell and throw my resistances right at it.

The world takes this, is this, shapeshifts according to all our screams, all our passions, and all the expressions of us in between.

Change yourself, change the world. It takes a village. These are not original thoughts, as they come to me now and feel relevant. My wisdom is not momentous, and it doesn’t have to be.

Everything about the world is my teacher, everything I want to see changed (the wars raging everywhere, the heart-breaking sufferings), a reflection of a mind too divided.

Or just divided enough. I can see the pieces, which means I can weave them together into something new.

I don’t want to change the world, I guess. The words, the thought, are an expression of my deepest love for this space we inhabit, a love that threatens to spill over in over-abundance now and then, as I fumble along, wildly in the dark, in tingly anticipation of the magic I will experience and the morbid fear that I might break entirely.

What I wanted to write today was not about changing the world, but about throwing myself open, gaping wide into it, reaching out to all of us fragile beings who can meet, really meet in all the spaces that have not yet been occupied by hard, unforgiving things, and bathe the whole world  in embrace.

Change is the law of nature. Everything changes, all the time. We don’t have to wish it, will or, or control it or be terrified of it.

Being in the world, in full acknowledgement, is the most fundamental change there is. In full presence, everything gets clear and then nothing but love is possible.

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Out of the Shadows of Doubt, Faith

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” ~ Voltaire

 

Faith is on my mind.

I’m not an expert on faith, and my relationship with it has run the spectrum from skepticism and turbulence to curiosity and wonder. But here I am, with some thoughts I have to shake out onto the page.

I recently spent some time with my sister’s kids, and the experience was a sheer delight from start to finish. My six-year-old niece is a slice of magic.

Having never been to a massage parlour in her young life, she somehow found it perfectly sensible to set up a home-and-portable version of one, which she maintained with an adorable professionalism and absurdly endearing attention to detail. She never once thought she should research the art and technique of massage or develop business acumen to any degree. She just went for it, and wildly succeeded, in my opinion, especially in her willingness to accept rhinestone hearts as cash.
There is a beautiful logic in the way children move around in the world.

Childplay can look like mimicry of the “real” world (“playing house” or “playing doctor”), but it is also a whole world all its own, which works according to its own internal rhythms.

We all had access to this world at one time; it was more or less our birthright, and many of us lose this capacity to really play as a child would, as the years go by and we’re encouraged to “grow up” and be responsible, functioning citizens.

Children don’t know statistics.

They don’t put two and two together the way we do. They don’t reason things out when they suffer. They just suffer. And then they don’t. They also have an amazing capacity to bounce back after a fall, can laugh from the deepest part of their gut (or soul, depending on how you want to look at it), and are often more than happy to find answers to their own myriad questions, no matter how eccentric these answers might seem to us.

Children follow their own logic, and I want to suggest that one of the threads underpinning this logic is faith. Children question everything, but they are believe, or rather, have belief.

They don’t doubt, as we do, because having doubt is essential to not being considered naïve in the world. They don’t start to doubt until they are given reason to doubt: maybe someone has lied to them and they’ve caught on, or maybe friend have bullied or betrayed them. Until this happens, the M.O. of children is to believe. To have faith. To know without knowing that it’s not just okay, but awesome to be in this world, as it is. As they are.

We can’t remain children, and there’s also a lot to be gained with the kind of knowledge that comes from learning rational thought, developing analytical abilities, and learning how to discriminate between one thing and the other. This goes without saying. Yet, we find ourselves trapped, unhappy, having compromised too many times.

We remind ourselves that we need to play more, laugh harder, love more freely. And we find it extremely difficult to do so with any level of commitment, passion…or belief that it’s possible to sustain these kinds of things.

We do need to laugh, to nurture ourselves.

We also need to remember what it can be like to believe. We know that when we believe in our friends, our loved ones, in the life we have built and in life itself, we are happier. It’s perfectly reasonable and logical that we should do things that make us happy. When things happen to dampen our ability to believe in certain things, or people, it’s also important to adjust our way of being in the world so that we do not set ourselves up to be continually disappointed or hurt.
But let’s not burn the whole house down.

Let’s not infer a hurtful world from one hurtful action. Let’s not assume belief itself is suspect because some things can no longer believed. Faith is not intentional—it is not meant directed at one object, not matter how large that object or entity is said to be.

Faith, I think, is about stripping away our doubts (some founded, some perhaps not), and seeing what remains. What remains must be a positive, not a negative, and we would be doing ourselves a huge favour by embracing it. What do we have to lose? We might want to ask ourselves: what have cynicism and doubt brought to our lives?

Conversely, what has belief brought us, when we’ve allowed it in?

Faith is faith—it exists, like children do, according to its own logic and rhythms, and we can either join the party or not. We don’t have to forget all that we are, were, and have been to join the party, and we don’t have to do anything with eyes closed.

We just have to remember what it can feel like not to move wildly and freely in the world, because doubt has gotten in the way. All we have to do is step in, with an open heart and a genuine intention to meet the world with good intention and an attitude of reciprocity, and let the rest unfold.

“If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

 

*This article was first published on elephant journal.

Vortice: A Rebellion in Peace

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No End

(Flashback)

They said the world might well reach its last moments on December 12, 2012, or 12/12/12. But here I am, early in the morning on this day, and I’m alive, and the world is still here. I’m in Thailand, which is now well into its dry, so-called winter season. It rained all night, which is very unusual for this time of year. It was still drizzling this morning, when we got up to meditate. It was hard not to think in metaphors, in lurid symbolism. Could this be an actual watering down, in a way, of the cataclysm we were all bracing for? A reminder that dark times were nearly averted and could return, vengeance-like, anytime, provided we don’t learn how to live properly? Was it just rain? Is anything ever “just” that thing? I’ve come to learn that it’s rarely the case that something is nothing. After all, each of us makes the world, our world, and why would we make nothing? Why would we make at all? The trick, I feel, is to remember, and to remember all the time, that we have made and we do make our world – and ourselves – every moment. We need to be acutely aware of this process of self-creation and world-creation if we want to live in a world that is also a world-of-conscience. Today, here, now: a dull, light rain in an otherwise sunny and perfect season. Perhaps our fears, then, while dulling us, are also lightening or easing, though they have not completely disappeared. There are some who believe it to be this way: that the end of the world predicted by many has been avoided because of all the work people have been doing with the forces of Light. This is a beautiful idea, that amid news of calamity and destruction and hopelessness, there is indeed a movement of luminosity underway, that underpinning the rain and our fear is beauty and hope for re-genesis – so that it’s actually possible to partake in the world’s recovery. There are others still who say it’s ridiculous to assume that Mother Nature will cave under the weight of human misbehavior, that nature is much, much stronger than anything we can do to annihilate her. We might meet our end sooner rather than later, but Nature will survive, and prosper, and new life will grow – this is the nature of nature being herself. What is true is also what is undeniable: we are still here now, and Earth is still here now, and there is as much potential for laughter as for sadness, and as much ability for light as for dark. This, I believe: we make our world, and then we remake it. Every time. Is this fanciful thinking? Because it’s as practical as any thought I feel I’ve had. I can’t imagine anything more powerful than turning a day around by willfully neglecting a negative thought, and I’ve already watched this work and succeed. If it can be done, it’s because we’ve done it. If we haven’t done it, we have absolutely no way of proving it cannot be done. This is logic. So let’s meet the world we have made, see where it can use some work (some of our light), and know that this work is nothing more or less than spinning on the axis of love (we love love, we fear love, we too often narrow the scope of love) and the creative power that belongs – intrinsically so – to all of us. Let’s also remember: the point isn’t to live forever any more than it is to actively avert death, to get away with not dying. The point is to embrace death as well as all the moments of not-yet-in-death that remain to us.

This article was recently published in “Vortice: The Eye of the Needle”, a collection of work paying tribute to the original Vortice movement, described by the editor of this collection like this: “The year 2014 brings the 100th anniversary of the founding of Vorticism, a short-lived and militant English art and literary movement that defiantly rejected the popular conventions of the day.” Please see the full editor’s statement, and the rest of the amazing work in the collection here.